Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Dogs are Killing People

Mostly this blog posts light-hearted, Poodle related articles. But occasionally a dog training issue is addressed. After just seeing the 2012 dog fatality statistics on, I thought some of my readers might find it helpful to meditate on the REAL reasons that dozens of children (and adults) are killed by dogs in the United States and Canada each year. The numbers have not gone down since I started researching this issue in the early 90s. Here is a quick recap for you, of the reasons I believe these tragedies continue to happen:

1. Lack of knowledge, or being brainwashed/bombarded with incorrect information.

Many would assume that since bookstores and on-line stores are full of dog-related books, and the internet full of dog related websites, whole television stations are devoted to animals (with primarily dog related shows)--every dog owner would have access to, and would gain knowledge of, basic canine behavior before purchasing a dog as a pet.

Actually, the exact opposite is true. These methods of obtaining information have actually caused dog owners to be bombarded with MIS-INFORMATION in the last decade. Before that time period, the average person got their knowledge about dogs primarily from experienced breeders of a particular breed of dog. Even the books they read were primarily written by very experienced breeders, or very experienced dog trainers of a certain discipline (even the training books were pretty specialized, gundog trainers wrote books about gundog training, obedience trainers wrote about obedience training, etc.) There were no books available by certified animal behaviorists who received their education about canines through book knowledge or lab rats, versus through hands-on training of dogs. “Dog men” (pardon the expression ladies, there were some experienced dog ladies as well, but many dog sports were dominated by men even when I got started in dogs in the 70s) had hands on, day to day experience with whatever breed or breeds of dogs they worked with and the information they gave out about dogs was fairly accurate. They had no desire for you to own a dog of "their breed" if they thought you would not be capable of keeping it from biting someone so their writing was not full of marketing hype. They did not write to please animal activists groups, because there was no such thing, so no politics were involved.

2. Dog owners who have knowledge, but actually make choices that are irresponsible.
This can be because the dog owner has a substance abuse problem (he or she is too drunk or strung out on drugs to believe or make use of the knowledge they know about dogs hence they do something stupid like leave an infant child alone in a room with a dog). Or perhaps they have chosen to be irresponsible because they don’t feel it is necessary to make a decision that will cost them money—for example, they know it is not responsible to allow a large, highly driven dog like a Pit Bull or a Rottweiler outside alone in a 3 foot high fence but they have chosen to do so because they don’t feel they have the money to build an 8 foot high wooden privacy fence, or they are just too lazy to put the dog on a secure leash and walk the dog for potty breaks until they can afford to put up the fence). Maybe it is cold outside, and they don't care to stand out in the cold walking the dog. Either way, it is a choice and if someone has the knowledge but chooses to do something irresponsible, then, in my eyes, they have chosen criminal behavior and should be so charged if another human being or animal is injured, maimed or killed.

3. Dog owners who are not competent enough, physically and or mentally, to own a dog, much less control it but who insist on owning this type of dog anyway. Of course the real root of the problem lies with the person who allowed them to have the dog in the first place, but many people become determined and will find a way if they want something, and then are too proud to let go of it once they realize they cannot safely care for the dog. Or worse yet, they have bought the dog from someone who will not take it back if they realize the dog is too much for them or from a rescue group who encourages them to keep the dog even when it is an obvious mismatch for the owners who cannot control it. An ethical breeder or rescue group will ALWAYS take a dog back.

4. Dog rescue groups, shelters or breeders who are too lazy (or in the case of a breeder, perhaps too greedy)to place dogs only with people who have been properly educated, and to whom they are sure are competent to handle the dog they are being given. “Vetting” a dog owner to make sure they are properly matched to the type of dog they wish to own takes a good bit of time. It can also be rather stressful, particularly if the prospective owner is not a good match and they must be denied the animal they wish to purchase. References have to be checked (veterinarians who have been used in the past, landlords, neighbors, etc), home visits must be made if it is necessary to place the dog only in a home with a secure fenced yard, etc. Beware of any breeder whose website says you may purchase a puppy by simply sending them a deposit via paypal! Some of these "breeders" are actually scam artists who do not even have dogs, but instead just take people's money via the internet. ANYONE WHO IS GOING TO BREED, RESCUE OR IN ANY WAY PLACE OR SELL DOGS TO THE PUBLIC HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE ONLY OFFERING DOGS WHO ARE NOT AGGRESSIVE. Also, they must place dogs only in homes capable of training them and handling them safely.

Also, although I hate to do so, I must make mention of the “no-kill” animal adoption groups who, instead of providing safe lifetime sanctuary for dogs that are unsafe to adopt, decide instead to continue to offer for adoption dogs who have bitten, or show signs of any type of aggression. Of course not all no-kill animal adoption groups are this way, but the popularity of the no-kill movement has made this practice more common. When "rescue groups" first started back in the 90s, rescue groups carefully evaluated dogs, and if there was any signs of aggression, the dog was humanely put to sleep, it was never offered for adoption. Remember, a sanctuary is different--it can be run by knowledgeable people who provide lifetime care for dogs with problems. But if it is an adoption facility, and they offer problematic dogs for adoption (versus either putting them down or finding a place in a sanctuary for them) then they are definitely contributing to the dog bite epidemic. And yes, dogs who have been adopted from shelters have killed people, there are documented cases, even one which resulted in a lawsuit.

5. Non-dog owners who have no clue about dog behavior and allow their children to act in an unsafe manner around dogs All parents, teachers and anyone who ever looks after children needs to understand dogs. They also need to know how to stop an attack in process in case a child in their care is attacked.

6. Localities who refuse to enact any laws to protect the public from dogs, such as laws stating a dog must be on a secure leash and collar and walked only by an adult while off the owner’s property and localities that have laws, but refuse to enforce them. This is one of my pet peeves, perhaps because I happen to live in such a county. It is legal to allow your dog to run loose. The only law concerning dogs involves their rabies vaccine, and the fact that dog owners must pay $5 per dog per year for a dog tag and your dog must wear the dog tag and an up to date rabies tag. Many dogs are killed on the highways, and others are shot by farmers for chasing livestock. We have an elderly neighbor who was attacked by a Pit Bull (not her own) while she was on her front porch.

In our state, in 2005, 86 year old Dorothy Sullivan was killed in a similar manner on her own property. Her story, along with others from that year, can be found on this link:

Why don't all areas have laws concerning dogs being confined to their own property? It does not matter what kind of dog it is, for the safety of not only people, but even for the dog's safety, all pets should be confined to their own property.

7. Dog owners who are unwilling, or unable, to teach their dogs proper bite inhibition.

Things such as how to teach a dog proper bite inhibition require a more lengthy article. You can find a good bit of information on the Knowing Dogs website and blog:

As always, your comments are also welcomed.

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